India: Public Behaviour – Part 1


Acceptable public conduct

The traditional way of greeting in India is performed by holding your palms together, as in praying, and saying ‘Namaste’ [nah-mas-tay] or ‘Namaskar’ [nah-mas-kar], with a slight bow.

While, the Namaste or Namaskar are Hindu ways of greeting, they are also accepted among all other communities. These other communities, however, also have their own traditional greetings. For instance, among Muslims, the traditional greeting is ‘Salaam-Wale-Kum’, which is responded to by saying ‘Wale-kum-Salaam.’ Similarly, Sikhs traditionally greet each other by saying ‘Sat-Siree-Akaal.’

Shaking hands is also an acceptable way to greet people among urban and westernized Indians.

Among the younger urban Indians, a ‘Hello’ or ‘Hi’ with a wave of the hand is also an acceptable form of greeting when making informal contact.

In general, Indian society is conservative about heterosexual physical contact and relationships. Refrain from greeting people with hugs and kisses.

Shaking hands with women, since it involves physical touch, is not universally accepted in Indian society. Among the urban westernized Indians, you may find some Indian women offering to shake hands. However, it is advisable to shake hands only when it is offered. In most other situations, ‘Namaste’ is the safest way to greet–in fact, it will also be appreciated as a gesture of friendliness.

It is customary to allow women and guests to proceed before yourself.

The acceptable way to beckon someone is to hold your hand out, palm downward, and make a scooping motion with fingers. Beckoning someone with a wagging finger, with the palm upward is seen as an authoritarian/ condescending signal, and will be perceived as an insult.

Do not point to someone with your finger, since that is likely to be interpreted as an accusatory gesture. Use of hand/palm or chin is a more acceptable way of pointing towards someone.

Standing erect with your hands on your hips is likely to be seen as an aggressive and dominating posture.

Among Indians, it is normal for them to use their hands to gesticulate while talking with each other. Folded hands, or hands in one’s pockets while talking are likely to be perceived as arrogant gestures.

Whistling and winking are usually perceived as rude and unacceptable behaviours, as they have sexual connotations.

Talking to a woman who is walking alone is not advisable, since it is likely to be seen as a proposition or other inappropriate gesture.

Seniority, age and authority are respected in India, both in business and in public life.

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